“I don’t think speaking Spanish is something criminal…”
A U. S. Border Patrol agent is taking heat for a stop conducted in Havre, Montana, after admitting that he detained two U. S. citizens solely because they were speaking Spanish.
In a cellphone video recorded by one of the two women stopped, both of whom are Mexican-American, the agent explains that he questioned them because they were “speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here.”
When asked by one of the women whether they are being racially profiled, the agent claims that their race has “nothing to do with that.”
“It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominantly English-speaking,” he explains.
In a statement to The Washington Post, a representative of U. S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency would be reviewing the incident but also cited the wide legal authority given to their agents:
“U. S. Customs and Border Protection agents and officers are committed to treating everyone with professionalism, dignity and respect while enforcing the laws of the United States. Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States. They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.”
CBP has long claimed wide-ranging authority in the so-called “buffer zone,” or the 100-mile range within U. S. borders. When operating within that area, the agency has additional authorities to conduct searches.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “roughly two-thirds” of the U. S. population lives within that area. While U. S. citizens always have the right to remain silent, the pressure of a stop can result in individuals unknowingly ceding that right.
Ana Suda, the woman recording the video, told the Post that the incident left her feeling “embarrassed” and that she plans to take legal action.
“I don’t think speaking Spanish is something criminal, you know?” she explained. “My friend, she started crying. She didn’t stop crying in the truck. And I told her, we are not doing anything wrong.”
Suda also says her 7-year-old daughter has since seen the video and asked whether they should no longer speak Spanish in public.
“I said, ‘No. You be proud. You are smart,’” Suda said. “’You speak two languages.’”